Street Fighters Too
Janette Sadik-Khan, the sui generis city transportation commissioner, was standing on 51st Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues as rush hour was just starting last week. Rather, she was standing at the intersection with 6½th Avenue, her latest asphalt confection. The pedestrian passageway was designated and demarcated about two months ago, connecting up a series of plazas running from here to 57th Street. Ms. Sadik-Khan was out for her first official stroll.
“It’s kind of a secret garden, one of the new secret spaces we’ve helped create; we’ve got 500 of them in the city and we’re trying to connect people better to their surroundings, make the city that much nicer,” Ms. Sadik-Khan said.
She gazed up at the cute little green street sign one of her construction crews had installed. “6½th Avenue” it read, like a sign on any other corner, though it, along with five others along the seven-block passageway, are the only ones in the city bearing fractions. The commissioner looked down and smiled. “It’s like Harry Potter,” she said. “The 9¾ platform. Or Being John Malkovich, with the 7½ floor.”
“I love it.”
Former mayoral hopeful and social media lothario Anthony Weiner once infamously declared to Mayor Bloomberg over dinner that his first year in City Hall would be spent “tearing out your fucking bike lanes.”
It is a prospect that terrifies urban planners and bike advocates, who worship the public space rejiggering championed by current DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Mr. Weiner is obviously out of the running, but some other mayoral candidates have expressed concern about these streetscape changes, as well, most recently Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who called the commish a “radical” recently. But would he really go through with it?
Thought everything was all about The Heat this summer? Well, for once, it’s not.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has teamed up with Baron Davis—who can’t take his skills to the court due to injury versus The Heat, so we guess he’s taken his skills to the street instead—to lecture New Yorkers on proper road side etiquette.
Most New Yorkers with $14 million would likely opt for a pricey slice of real estate on the Upper East Side, maybe with a little left over for dinner for a thousand friends at Per Se. But in Brooklyn, they choose instead to spend that money on their bikes.
With $14 million in funding, secured by Congresswoman Nydia M. Velazquez, the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative and the Regional Plan Association, the borough will finally see the completion of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, a 14-mile foot and bike path running from Greenpoint to Bay Ridge. Some segments of the greenway already exist on some streets and riverside parks, but these funds will help stitch the entire thing together.
Despite nascent fears of out-of-control teens and flying Dutchmen, New Yorkers are eagerly awaiting the city’s bike share program according to a new Quinnipiac poll, which found that 64 percent of city dweller favor bike share compared to 30 percent opposed.
Now, Gothamites can find out if there will be a Citi Bike station on their corner, as the city’s Department of Transportation has just unveiled the preliminary map for its new 600-station, 10,000-bike strong bike sharing network.
The Observer cannot quite walk out our door and hop on one of the new bright blue rigs, but there is a station one block north and south of our offices, an arrangement that seems to be the norm for a system stretching from 60th Street to Atlantic Avenue. These bikes will be everywhere.
Well, unless you’re a townhouse dweller.
Planes Trains & Automobiles
The NYPD has been criticized for its uneasy relationship with the city’s cyclists. As this video from Fox 5 shows, the apple does not fall far from the tree, as Greg Kelly grills DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan for what one might expect to be a celebratory interview about the city’s new bikeshare program. Instead of a helmet, the commissioner should have brought a pair of boxing gloves.
When Sam Schwartz went into transportation planning in the 1970s, he never thought he would leave behind the asphalt of Manhattan for the sandy beaches of Aruba.
At a conference a few years ago, Mr. Schwartz, who runs an eponymous engineering firm in Soho, had just finished up a panel when a woman approached him and asked for his help. The American tourists coming to her country were too lazy to walk to the historic city center, which had been languishing, and she hoped Mr. Schwartz would help. He joked that she should fly him down for an inspection. The next day, the trip was booked. “I’ve done that before and no one has ever taken me up on it.”
After dismissing horse drawn carriages, Mr. Schwartz hit on a novel solution: a team of former Spielberg and Disney imagineers had created a super-high-tech trolley system, totally battery powered with an 18-hour running time. No new infrastructure is required. “Can you believe it? Mass transit on this little Caribbean island,“ Mr. Schwartz marveled. A lei of pink flowers hangs in his lofty office overlooking Houston Street, one of hundreds of tokens of gratitude clogging up the walls and shelves like the cars and trucks, constantly honking, in the gridlock below.
Gridlock. A term Sam Schwartz coined, one of his countless tiny little innovations that have endeavored to make traffic move a little faster. After two decades working for the city’s Department of Transportation, Mr. Schwartz has taken his show on the road, and what he sees across the country both delights and troubles him.
“Fifth and Sixth Avenues teem these days; the thronging pedestrians maneuver under rules skimpier than those of a bagataway.” Most every New Yorker would agree with this assessment, which could extend from Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side to Lower Broadway in Soho, and nowhere moreso then that bastard child of show business and commerce, Times Square.
Yet these words were written not by a New Yorker, but The New Yorker, in 1956, when none other than John Updike endeavored to plot a safer course through Midtown. “As a service to readers who are too frail or shy for good-natured hurly-burly, we decided to plot a course from the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center that would involve no contact with either Fifth or Sixth Avenue,” he wrote in an unsigned Talk piece.
Among the challenges to contend with were a chain-link fence to be shimmied under and the tight quarters of Orbach’s department store to be navigated. Tad Friend charted the same course in a similar story two years ago and encountered far worse: “The last half century has stripped midtown of spacious department stores such as Ohrbach’s and Stern’s, and fortified it with guards, visitors’ logs, and electronic-card-access gates.”
Both pieces were very much on The Observer’s mind while working on last week’s stories about the city’s new plans to create 6½ Avenue, a series of crosswalks connecting a chain of public plazas between Sixth and Seventh avenues spanning the West 50s. If Updike’s experience is any indication, this pedestrian shortcut is much in need. And yet to read reports of the pathway in the city’s dailies, you would think a heinous crime were being committed.
What if the city built a huge public park in the heart of Midtown, stretching half a mile over seven city blocks, about as big as the first phase of the High Line? What if that park already existed, dating to the 1980s, largely ignored but for the most knowing New Yorkers?
“We’re basically building a new pedestrian avenue in the heart of Midtown, one of the densest, busiest places on Earth,” Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said during an interview last week.
Call it 6½th Avenue.
Upper East Side residents can cross safely over the FDR Drive again, after the Department of Transportation opened the newly enhanced East 78th Street pedestrian bridge today.
The old bridge, which was built in the 1940s, was demolished last July due to the Department of Transport listing it’s condition as “poor” in its biennial inspection.